Ethics

For the week ending 15 January 2005 / 5 Shevat 5765

When the Cellphone Rings

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: I was recently in the middle of a lecture when the sound of a cellphone ringing caused me to stop. This greatly disturbed me, especially since I had requested at the beginning of my talk that all such phones be turned off. What is the right thing to do in such a situation?

Answer: I know exactly how you feel because I have suffered in the same manner. But let me share with you something which happened to a colleague of mine. He too had warned his audience to shut off all cellphones and when one began ringing in the middle of his lecture he exploded and publicly denounced the violator. It later turned out that this fellow had indeed turned off his phone but that it accidentally rang as a result of its being in the coat which he sat on!

Reaching rash conclusions about peoples lack of consideration is a dangerous business. In addition to the cause of the ringing in the above-mentioned incident, there is also the possibility that an individual made the honest mistake of thinking that he had switched off the phone but actually had failed to do so.

The right thing for you to do in such a situation is to patiently wait for the ringing to stop and to comment that you are certain that you and your listeners are victims of an accident. If this was not the case, the violator would have learned his lesson, and if it was the case you have avoided committing the grave sin of publicly embarrassing someone. In all cases you will win points with the audience, something every lecturer is interested in achieving.

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